Logistically, Cerdic the Celtic interpreter named in The Historia Brittonum and Cerdic the Celtic son of Cunedda mentioned in Welsh genealogies is the same Cerdic listed in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle who becomes a West-Saxon king, based upon the irrefutable evidence that the name Cerdic is Celtic and not a Saxon name.
CERDIC, THE INTERPRETER
Map (1) ©FDR
Cerdic is yet another figure difficult to trace through the Arthurian maze. Historically, there are three characters named Cerdic/Ceretic ; one appears in Section 37 of the Historia Brittonum when Hengist is duping Vortigern to allow more Saxones (Anglians) into the western territories.
In one of the keels came Hengest’s daughter, a beautiful and very handsome girl. When the keels had arrived, Hengest held a banquet for Vortigern, and his men and his interpreter, whose name was Ceretic, and he told the girl to serve their wine and spirits. They all got exceedingly drunk. When they were drinking, Satan entered into Vortigern’s heart, and made him love the girl. Through his interpreter, he asked her father for her hand, saying ‘ask of me what you will even to the half of my kingdom’
Although Nennius’s pronoun references are sometimes vague, in this instance his message seem clear: Hengest held a banquet for Vortigern, for Vortigern’s men, and for Vortigern’s interpreter, whose name was Ceretic; in the last sentence, Satan enters into Vortigern’s heart, and through Vortigern’s interpreter he asks for Hengest’s daughter. There are some researchers who have alleged that the interpreter is Hengist’s, not Vortigern’s. There is nothing more said about Ceretic, but it is crucial to properly identify this Ceretic.
In a different context, Geoffrey Ashe, in the Discovery of King Arthur, page 197, writes “Cerdic (the West Saxon king) is certainly real, because no Saxon Court genealogist would have invented him. His name is not Saxon at all but British. It appears in various forms, one of them being Ceredig, the name borne by the Clyde ruler, so that it was definitely a royal name among fifth-century Britons.”
In the Welsh Genealogies of the British Historical Miscellany, the nine sons of Cunedda are listed, Ceretic being the fifth. Leslie Alcock, Arthur’s Britain, pages 125-126, comments on this set of documents:
It should be said at the outset that some scholars would regard the whole account of Cunedda’s sons as a confection, or at best as a piece of antiquarian speculation about the origins of certain Welsh place-names. According to this view, Ceretic comes into the story to explain Ceredigion (Cardiganshire). . . But against this it can be asserted first, that names like Ceretic and Etern are well-attested as personal names; and second, that Welsh territorial names were regularly formed by adding possessive or territorial suffixes, -ing or -iog, to personal names. There is nothing inherently improbable about part of west Wales being called Ceredigion after an early ruler Ceretic, nor is there any reason why the account of Cunedda and his sons should be anything other than a record of fact.
Chris Barber and David Pykitt indicate that Cerdic is a British name which is a variation of Ceredig of the Gewissi. They claim that this Cerdic
was not a Saxon transmarine invader but a man of insular stock. His pedigree both upwards and downwards contains British names. Not only is there a striking similarity between Elesa and the Eliseg of the ninth-century Pillar of Eliseg in the Vale of Llangollen, but the two names Elesa and Esla, the father and grandfather of Cerdic, compare with the Eliseg and Elise of the Powysian pedigree.
Unaware of Barber and Pykitt’s book published in 1993, The Historic King Arthur reached the same conclusion in 1996.
And to cite one more reference, Richard Barber, in the Figure of Arthur, page 86, gives this addendum about Cerdic:
No other Briton among the Britons knew Saxon except this man; and he applied himself to acquiring a knowledge of it (of reading it) until he was able to understand the Saxon speech.
Nothing more is included in early manuscripts about Cerdic as an interpreter, but a character by the name of Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages frequently appears in “How Culhwch Won Olwen” of The Mabinogion; during Culhwch’s invocation he mentions Gwrhyr Interpreter of Languages who knew all tongues. Later in the story Arthur summons Gwrhyr who knew all tongues to join the throng to help Culhwch to win Olwen from her father Ysbaddaden. Kei and Gwrhyr must pass a great plain where a shepherd’s mastiff, larger than a nine-year-old stallion, never let anyone pass, for his breath could burn tree and bush to the ground. Menw distracts the dog, and the three are able to continue their quest. Upon arriving at Wrnach’s fortress, Gwrhyr asks for the gatekeeper. Continuing their quest, Gwrhyr, the only one who knew all tongues and could speak with the birds and animals, was sent to Glini’s fortress to find Mabon. Gwrhyr has great difficulty finding him, but finally succeeds. When Gwrhyr has to talk to Twrch, he transforms into a bird.
Gwrhyr appears in two other tales, one “The Dream of Rhonabwy” where he is named one of Arthur’s advisors, and the second in “Gereint and Enid” when Gereint is accompanied by a troup of men to protect is father’s kingdom.
There is no proof or suggestion that Gwrhyr is a doublet of Ceretic/Cerdic, nor is it unusual not to encounter historical Welsh figures in The Mabinogion. Maxim (Maximus), Avaon (son of Talyessin), Cadwr (Cador) of Cornwall, Caw of Scotland, Gildas and Hueil his sons, Medrawd (Mordred), Custenhin (Constantine), and a host of others are shadows, but a number of Welsh heroes are not mentioned at all.
CERDIC, SON OF CUNEDDA
Tracing the genealogy of Cunedda and his sons, Leslie Alcock begins by writing, “The primitive spelling Cunedag argues that an appreciably earlier written source [than the Historia Brittonum] underlies [Cunedda’s genealogy].” At the end of the Welsh Genealogies in the British Historical Miscellany is a summary of the chronology:
These are the names of the sons of Cuneda of whom the number was 9. Typipaun the first born who died in the region called Manau Guodotin and did not come hither with his father and aforesaid brothers; Meriaun his son shared the land with his brothers 2 Osmail, 3 Rumaun, 4 Dunaut, 5 Ceretic, 6 Abloyc, 7 Ennaiun Girt, 8 Docmail, 9 Etern. This is their boundary. from the river Tebi and they hold many regions in western Britain.
Cerdic the son of Cunedda is not specifically mentioned in the Historia Brittonum, but Cunedda’s clan is mentioned twice. In Section 14, Cunedda and his sons drive out the Kindred of Eight and all their race from all countries in Britain. Section 62 records this information:
King Maelgwn the Great was reigning among the British, in Gwynedd, for his ancestors, Cunedda, with his sons to the number of eight, had come from the north, from the country called Manaw Gododdin, 146 year before Maelgwn reigned, and expelled the Irish from these countries, with immense slaughter, so that they never again returned to inhabit them.
One of the most perplexing problems for present-day scholars is determining the migration of Cunedda and his clan based upon the span of time between their migration and Maelgwn’s reign, especially when Maelgwn’s death has been ascertained based upon the Annales Cambriae. Alcock is cognizant of the chronological complexities, pointing out that if Cunedda’s migration took place about 380, then it was an act of Roman policy; if it occurred about 450 it was probably organized by some sub-Roman authority which allowed the English Anglo-Saxons into Welsh territory; if it were as late as 490, it was an act of private enterprise. The word English must be stressed, because these were tribes which had lived on the island for at least a couple of generations; those ancestral tribes still living on the continent were referred as the German Anglo-Saxons.
Based upon Alcock’s calculations, The Historic King Arthur elaborates upon the second possibility, a date around 450 which was the era of internal conflict recorded by Gildas Badonicus. The golden area in the map below shows the territory between the Rivers Dee and Tebi granted to Cunedda and his clan. Cerdic’s territory stretched along the central coast, and Creuddyn, Cerdic’s son (not Cynric as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has it), was granted territory by his father.
There is enough circumstantial evidence to use Charles Plummer’s rational and make a claim that Cerdic the interpreter, Cerdic son of Cunedda, and Cerdic the West Saxon king refer to the same individual in progressive developmental stages of his life. In the Welsh genealogies, Cunedda’s ancestry is Roman: his father was Æternus, his grandfather Paternus of the Red Robes, and his great-grandfather Tacitus.
Thomas O’Sullivan is correct in assuming that Cerdig of Cardigan is not a doublet of Ceredig of Strathclyde: “If the expedition of Cunedda took place ca. 400 A.D. . . . and if Maelgwn Gwynedd flourished towards the beginning of the sixth century . . . then the floruit of Cerdic of Cardigan would be roughly the same as that of Ceredig of Strathclyde (ca. 420 – 450, as we have seen). This coincides with Alcock’s determination that Cunedda’s migration occurred about 450 and was organized by some sub-Roman authority. Cunedda’s arrival must have been precipitated by the Saxon revolt in the middle of the fifth century. Establishing a chronology for the main figures during that period, then, would would result in this overlap:
Vortigern Hengist Octha Cerdic
407? – 413-473 437-497 450-510
Saxon Revolt 35 29 5 -8Octha’s succession, 455 48 42 18 5
458 – 464 51-57 45 -51 21 -27 8 – 14
Death of Hengist, 473 60 36 23
Death of Octha 60 47
The background for Cerdic the West-Saxon King must now focus upon The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and its Genealogical Preface, which requires some meticulous unraveling and the reader is therefore directed to first read “Reconciling the Discrepancy of Dates between the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle>Preface in this website. Charles Plummer, a reliable authoritative source, raises a precautionary flag warning that chronicles, although they should be deemed history, are more interpretive and not as inflexible as history, but both are set within limited parameters. The Preface becomes essential because some of the information is drastically different from the chronicle itself. For more detailed information about the number of chronicles referred to, and the reliability of the AS chronicle itself, read pages 51 – 65 in The Historic King Arthur.
Simplified, this is the material extracted.
● The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Cerdic and Cynric his son came to Britain in 495 and fought against the Welsh, and then in 519 Cerdic and Cynric succeeded to the kingdom of the West Saxons. The Preface, however, relates that Cerdic and Cynric his son first landed in Britain, in 494, and six years later (in 500) they conquered the land of Wessex from the Welsh. About these disparities, Plummer writes, “It is a small matter that the Preface puts the invasion of Cerdic and Cynric in 494, while the Chronicle places it in 495; it is more serious that the Preface places the foundation of the king of Wessex six years after their arrival, i.e. in 500, while the Chronicle places it in 519.
● The above information infers that the battle of Badon Hill and the strife of Camlann would be separated by only six years instead of nineteen years.
● The distinction between Welsh and Briton as the enemy must be critically noted in the entries of G.N. Garmonsway’s translation of The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Fighting the Welsh suggests battles in the western part of the island, but fighting the Britons would be battles in the southern section.
● Plummer recognizes that The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Cerdic’s son is Cynric, which according the genealogy of the West Saxon House indicates a lost generation; Cerdic’s son is Creoda and his grandson is Cynric. Creoda in the Saxon tongue, therefore, can be equated with Creuddyn in the Welsh tongue. Both Cerdic the West Saxon king and Cerdic son of Cunedda sire a son with the same name.
● As determined in the “Reconciliation” between the ASC and the Preface, adding the Creoda generation resolves the difference in dates between the two manuscripts.
● Something as strange as the Welsh name Ceredig being in an Anglo-Saxon chronicle is an Anglo-Saxon name appearing the the Welsh text, The Mabinogion. Osla Big Knife is a comrade (not enemy) of Arthur’s. “Big Knife” is actually an Anglo-Saxon term derived from seax, a broad sword. Whenever Arthur and his troops came to a flood, they would find a narrow crossing, and Osla would lay Bronllavyn Short Broad, his sword, across the flood, and that would be a strong enough bridge for the three armies of Britain. In another episode Osla lost his knife while chasing an enemy. His sheath filled with water and as his Welsh comrades tried to drag him from the river, he was dragged to the bottom. In the “Dream of Rhonabwy,” Osla Big Knife is mentioned again; he apparently did not drown. In this tale, however, Arthur is riding to the Battle of Baddon to fight against Osla Big Knife. After a great deal of fighting, Osla Big Knife asks Arthur for a truce. Arthur consults his advisors, then he receives a tribute from Osla, who is granted the truce and will meet Arthur once again in a month and a fortnight.
John of Glastonbury’s Cronica sive Antiquitates Glastoniensis Ecclesie contains segments of Caradoc’s Life of Gildas in addition to a great deal of material about King Arthur which was no doubt extracted from William Malmsbury’s De Antiquitate, left at Glastonbury Abbey and heavily interpolated. He also records intriguing bits of information about Cerdic, the West Saxon king. Section XXXII opens with
The kingdom of Wessex began about the year of grace 495 under Cerdic and his son Cynric. In the eleventh year of Cerdic, when Utherpendragon, the brother of Aurelius Ambrosius, had been killed with poison, his son Arthur, a youth of fifteen years, began to reign over the Britons.
The first sentence was borrowed from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, evidenced by the date of 495 and Cynric being recorded as Cerdic’s son rather than Creoda. The second sentence was copied from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain–except for the introductory comment, “In the eleventh year of Cerdic,” a fragment which is perplexing. One interpretation perhaps is that Cerdic began his Wessex reign in 495, and eleven years after that (in 506), Arthur, at age 15, began his reign over the Britons. But those who support the existence of a historic King Arthur set his rule some around the year 470, which would be a generation too late.
A second interpretation is that Cerdic was eleven years old when Arthur was crowned king at fifteen If that interpretation is acceptable, then around 459 Cerdic would have been eleven years old, which is almost identical to his floruit and lifespan as listed in the above chart. Suspending the fact that there was no Arthur of the fifth century (or substituting the name Arthur with Ambrosius Aurelianus), and also overlooking the enigmatic allusion to Utherpendragon, the floruit would set Cerdic’s birth year around 451, suggesting that it is feasible that Cerdic was an interpreter, the fifth son of Cunedda, and the West Saxon King.
The end of the last statement may sound like fable, but there is overwhelming consensus that Cerdic is a Briton name. Even the respected Charles Plummer writes
It is curious to find the traditional founder of the West-Saxon kingdom, the source to which all West-Saxon pedigrees are traced, bearing a name Cerdic, Certic, so like the Welsh Ceredig, Ceretic.
In an attempt to explain the genealogy for Cerdic the West Saxon king, Geoffrey Ashe in The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, “Extending the Map,” rationalizes that Cerdic’s name in an Anglo chronicle might be linked to a “phase of British-Saxon fraternisation and intermarriage in the fifth century, before the débâcle.” That might have been true after Cerdic’s generation or with other individuals, but different evidence can be construed that Cerdic was a Celt/Briton but for some reason not explained in history, he switched his allegiance to the Anglians, quite similar to the rift between Vortigern and Vortimer, the former sympathetic to the Anglians, and the latter fighting four battles against them.
In a later text, The Discovery of King Arthur, Ashe turns his attention to the term Gewisse for a clue to Cerdic’s genealogy. Both R.G. Collingwood and his predecessor Lieutenant General Fox Pitt-Rivers indicate that there is notable and material proof that Gewisse (Wiltshire and Dorset) in this period anticipated invasion and conquest from the north, not the south. There is no explicit time given when the Wansdyke was constructed, but both claim that most likely it was built at the end of the fifth or the beginning of the sixth, and not really attributable to the Romans.
The West-Saxon territory, also known as Wessex, was termed Gewissae in Bede’s time, and hence the Gewissae territory becomes a crucial point of interest. Bede uses the word Gewissae as an obsolete synonym for West Saxon, and once this former term was replaced by the latter, all scribes tended to associate the term with Saxon blue-bloods–that is, German Saxons entering the island from the continent. But this tenuous link–Wessex, Gewissae, and West Saxon–opens the door for other probabilities based upon insightful clues from a variety of sources:
1. The genealogy supplied by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle might not be as bogus as most researcher have thought it to be. The ASC relates that “Cerdic was the son of Elesa, the son of Esla, the son of Gewis, the son of Wig, the son of Freawine, the son of Frithugar, the son of Brand, the Son of Baeldaeg, the son of Woden. The first three names of ancestry can be associated with the Welsh, named on the Pillar of Eliseg.
2. The Historic King Arthur goes much further than simply agreeing that the names are Celtic. Cerdic is Cunedda’s fifth son, he is an interpreter, and, like his grandfather, he allies himself to the Anglians. Elesa is an epithet for Cunedda, Esla is an epithet for Vortigern (Æternus), and Gewis is an epithet for Paternus. Welsh Genealogies Celtic Name Anglian Name Cunedda Vortimer Elesa Aeternus Vortigern Esla Paternus ——– Gewis
3. John of Glastonbury, in Section XXXIII, records an interesting twist. He writes, “King Arthur fought mightily against the Saxons and wore them down; he waged twelve battles against them, conquering and routing them in all twelve instances. Often he struggled with Cerdic, who, if one month Arthur vanquished him, rose up the next fiercer for the fight. Finally, when Arthur tired of the conflict, he accepted Cerdic’s fealty and gave him Hampshire and Somerset, which Cerdic called Wessex. John evidently extracted the first sentence from the Historia Brittonum. His material about Arthur undoubtedly was borrowed from the Malmsbury manuscript which was left at the Abbey and was thereafter heavily interpolated, judged upon the fact that Malmsbury never wrote anything about Arthur, and there was really no Arthur who made war with Cerdic. What is interesting, however is the last segment of the citation; where John might have extracted this from is unknown, but it solicits perceptive comments. One is Cerdic’s acquisition of Wessex, which The Historic King Arthur addresses. Ethelwerd’s chronicle includes an entry for the year 500, which does not appear in The Anglo- Saxon Chronicle, but there is this statement in the Genealogical Preface of the ASC: “Six years later (i.e. 500) Cerdic and Cynric conquered the kingdom of Wessex.” Cynric must be emended to Creoda (Cerdic’s son), but more important at this juncture is that Ethelwerd’s chronicle does not use the expression “conquered the kingdom.” J.A. Giles’s translation records that Cerdic and Cynric “sailed round the western part of Britain, which is now called Wessex,” and Ethelwerd’s reads, Cerdic and Cynric “encircled that part of Britain now known as Wessex.” The ASC indicates that Cerdic and Cynric “obtained” Wessex.
4. These deductions warrant serious consideration since they have support from reliable sources:
a. Cerdic was an interpreter for his grandfather Vortigern who offered territories to Hengist for Rowena.
b. Cerdic inherited the territory Ceredigion from his father Cunedda.
c. Cerdic’s son established the country of Creuddyn to the north of his father’s domain.
d. Like his grandfather Vortigern, Cerdic developed a relationship with the Anglians.
e. Substituting the name Arthur with Ambrosius Aurelianus there was internecine strife between Ambrosius and Cerdic.
f. Ambrosius offered territory outside of Wales to Cerdic.
g. Cerdic sailed round the western part of Britain, specifically the Pembrokeshire peninsula, through the Bristol Channel and the Mouth of the Severn, and down the River Avon where he established the kingdom of Wessex between the present cities of Salisbury and Winchester.
A final comment about this mystifying figure of Cerdic stems from Geoffrey Ashe’s comment, page 197 of DKA, claiming that
Geoffrey of Monmouth calls Vortigern ‘ruler of the Gewissei’. Monmouth knows nothing about Cerdic, but it looks as if somebody he read did know about him–somebody who believed that he [Cerdic] inherited the lordship of the Gewisse from Vortigern.
Ashe doesn’t supply a source, but as a copyist, Monmouth seems to unknowingly use different names for Cerdic. He uses the name Cherdic only once, and Cherdic is a Saxon companion to Octha and Ebissa. Monmouth also records a Chelric who is in league with Mordred, and uses one other name which is parallel to Cerdic, Cheldric. Monmouth might well have confused the material he was copying and listed Cerdic as three separate characters–Cherdic, Chelric, and Cheldric.
John of Glastonbury seemingly borrows some of Monmouth’s material for Section XXXV of his manuscript. He writes that Mordred feared Cerdic the most, and in order to gain Cerdic’s favor, Mordred gave Cerdic seven provinces–Sussex, Surrey, Berkshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Devonshire, and Cornwall. Monmouth’s Chelric is in league with Mordred, but Mordred’s bribe is Kent and Britain from the River Humber to the Scottish Border. No more can be said about Cerdic.